HARVARD — There were no surprises in the budgets Police Chief Edward Denmark and Fire Chief Bob Mignard presented to selectmen.
While less than ideal, both chiefs said they could work with the tight-fisted bottom lines they had drawn. All departments were asked to present two versions of their projected operating budgets for Fiscal Year 2011, in level-funded and five percent reduction scenarios.
The DPW budget was another story. Director Rich Nota explained how operational changes in the level funded version aimed to preserve services by improving efficiency instead of cutting costs.
Noting departmental deficiencies the Finance Committee had pointed out, Nota offered a different take on employee turnover. He saved money on payroll by replacing people who quit with new hires at lower pay grades, he said.
As for roadside maintenance, particularly trimming back overgrown vegetation, “we know that has fallen behind,” he said. But he plans to catch up by privatizing that work. Nota’s cost comparison showed hiring out the job would save the town $24,000, with recouped cost pumped back into the department for other purposes. Beyond savings, it’s more efficient to hire a contractor than to do the job in-house, Nota said.
Given their multiple-item to-do list, it takes DPW workers two to three months to clean up roadsides town-wide, he said. But a specialized firm can get it done in two weeks.
There are other perks, too. The town won’t need to own sweeping equipment, scratching a capital line item, dedicated driver hours and maintenance. Mechanics would be freed up for other jobs. Piles of roadside debris will no longer be deposited in the neighborhoods after a sweep, either. Instead, a town dump truck will trail the hired sweeper and haul it away.
The work can be paid for with state Chapter 90 highway funds, Nota said. The planned start date is April 15, with completion by the end of the month.
A similar privatization plan for mowing town land saves $14,000, he said. And he may add private plowing if he has to cut a position under the five-percent reduction plan. Otherwise, “we can’t get it done in time,” he explained. Selectman Lucy Wallace suggested another option in that case. Residents might have to downsize expectations, she said, predicting that some might have to wait longer for their streets to be cleared after a snowstorm and there might be more school delays if the plowing schedule is adjusted.
Nota also proposed a new plan for household hazardous waste disposal via membership in a consortium with other area communities, with a regional drop-off facility at Devens.
In discussion of the issue, the selectmen noted more pluses than minuses.
Membership would cost more short-term but would pay off long-term and there would be more access. The consortium would encourage recycling versus improper disposal when cans of paint, for example, sit in people’s homes too long, Chairman Ron Ricci said. The current plan offers drop-off days twice a year at various locations that are often far afield for Harvard residents. The selectmen agreed to sign on to the consortium and to sponsor a “small warrant article” at the Annual Town Meeting to pay the initial cost.
The selectmen also agreed to authorize Nota to exceed the town’s annual snow and ice budget, the only line item the state allows municipalities to over-spend from one fiscal year to the next.